Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Archive for October 16th, 2014

When a California prosecutor elects to free an accused murderer rather than reveal what the prosecutor’s done

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I would say this story offers prima facie evidence of misbehavior.

There’s an ongoing scandal in Orange County, Calif., over how the office of District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and the sheriff’s department use jailhouse informants in criminal trials. The main allegation is that the agencies are deploying “snitches” to elicit confessions and other incriminating statements from other inmates accused of serious crimes. The informants are then given time off on their own sentences. The problem is that the quid pro quo and the tactics the informants are using to gather statements from the accused aren’t being disclosed to defense attorneys, as required by law. More background from the Open File bloghere.

The fallout from the scandal continues. Incredibly, Orange County prosecutors appear to be ready to let accused murderers and other alleged felons go free rather than open up practices and tactics to scrutiny. Here’s areport from the Voice of OC:

The Orange County District Attorney’s Office has dropped murder charges against another defendant after allegations that prosecutors improperly withheld evidence gleaned from a network of jailhouse informants.

On Sept. 22, prosecutors dismissed charges of attempted murder and solicitation of murder against 49-year-old Joseph Martin Govey, who has a prior criminal history. Lesser charges — including possessing counterfeit money and a felon with a firearm — remain.

Govey’s case marks the third time in three months that District Attorney Tony Rackauckas has chosen to drop murder charges rather than challenge defense attorneys’ claims that members of his team behaved unethically and violated evidentiary law with the informants network.

The network was first revealed earlier this year during an unprecedented hearing in the case of convicted mass murderer Scott Evans Dekraai.

Govey’s attorney, Renee Garcia, said the dismissal of the charges appears to be designed to hide informant evidence from her and other defense attorneys involved in other cases.

“It is part of a pattern in the District Attorney’s Office, whereby they are being unethical by not complying with the constitutionally mandated evidence discovery requirements,” said Garcia.

“What is very disturbing is that the whole district attorney management teams knows about this. They are behaving unethically. How corrupt can the office be?”

On Oct. 2, prosecutors dropped the remaining charges, too. This is my favorite part: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 4:31 pm

None so blind as some economists

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A wryly entertaining article by Jay Livingston in Pacific Standard:

Four years ago, 23 economists (mostly conservative) signed a letter to Ben Bernanke warning that the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing policy—adding billions of dollars to the economy—would be disastrous. It would “debase the currency,” create high inflation, distort financial markets, and do nothing to reduce unemployment.

Four years later, it’s clear that they were wrong (as Paul Krugman never tires of reminding us). Have they changed their beliefs?

Of course not.

Bloomberg asked the letter-signers what they now thought about their prophecy. Here’s the headline: “Fed Critics Say ’10 Letter Warning Inflation Still Right.” This despite the actual low inflation: . . .

Continue reading.

Two comments: Note again the mechanism of decreasing awareness to minimize pain/anxiety; and have you ever read Alison Lurie’s excellent novel Imaginary Friends?

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 4:26 pm

Posted in Science

Sistine Chapel lit by LEDs

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Somehow seems incongruous, but a good idea nonetheless.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 1:37 pm

Posted in Art, Technology

New Zealand politics is a lot rougher game than I thought

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Glenn Greenwald and Ryan Gallagher write in The Intercept:

Agents from New Zealand’s national police force ransacked the home of a prominent independent journalist earlier this month who was collaborating with The Intercept on stories from the NSA archive furnished by Edward Snowden. The stated purpose of the 10-hour police raid was to identify the source for allegations that the reporter, Nicky Hager, recently published in a book that caused a major political firestorm and led to the resignation of a top government minister.

But in seizing all the paper files and electronic devices in Hager’s home, the authorities may have also taken source material concerning other unrelated stories that Hager was pursuing. Recognizing the severity of the threat posed to press freedoms from this raid, the Freedom of the Press Foundation today announced a global campaign to raise funds for Hager’s legal defense.

In August, one month before New Zealand’s national election, Hager published Dirty Politics, which showed that key figures in Prime Minister John Key’s National Party were feeding derogatory information about their opponents to a virulent right-wing blogger named Cameron Slater. Hager published evidence in the form of incriminating emails, provided by a hacker, demonstrating coordination between National Party officials and Slater. The ensuing scandal forced the resignation of a top Key ally, Justice Minister Judith Collins, and implicated numerous other National Party officials and supporters. Despite the scandal, the National Party won a resounding victory in the election, sending Key to a third term as prime minister.

On October 2—less than two weeks after the election—detectives from a regional “major crime team” came to Hager’s Wellington home armed with a search warrant authorizing them to seize anything that might lead them to the identity of his source for Dirty Politics. The warrant shows that prior to the raid, a police “intelligence analyst” had studied Hager’s media appearances in an effort to discover information about his sources for the book, taking particular note of references Hager made to knowing the source’s identity.

While there is no evidence that Hager’s work on NSA documents was a factor in the raid, . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 1:15 pm

Posted in Politics

Whisper: The ‘anonymous’ messaging app that reportedly tracks your location and shares data with the Pentagon

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I wonder whether we are going to start seeing services and products whose covert purpose is to monitor communications and locations for government agencies, with the agency acting assisting in development and funding in return for use of the service in surveillance. Brian Fung writes in the Washington Post:

It turns out Whisper — the social networking app that lets users post messages to the service anonymously — may have been tracking its users’ locations, sometimes even after the users opted out of the service’s geolocation features.

That information has occasionally been shared with the U.S. government, including agencies such as the Pentagon, using a lower legal standard than is commonly used by other tech companies, according to an in-depth reportby The Guardian.

Reporters from The Guardian recently visited Whisper’s headquarters in Los Angeles. What they discovered over the course of three days showed that Whisper not only kept tabs on accounts it deemed interesting — “military personnel,” a “sex-obsessed lobbyist,” and political staffers, to name a few — but that it retained that information for far longer than its Web site suggested.

I’ve reached out to Whisper for comment; I’ll update this post if and when I hear back. Whisper told The Guardian it “occasionally” uses user IP addresses but does not store usernames, phone numbers or personally identifiable information.

When a user opted out of the geolocation tracking feature, which allows users to see Whisper posts that are “nearby,” Whisper was still able to collect rough location data on a case-by-case basis from certain users’ phones, according to The Guardian. When Whisper found out that The Guardian was preparing its story for publication, the company reportedly rewrote its terms of service to allow the collection of general geolocation data even when users have turned off the feature.

One question moving forward is whether revising its terms of service is enough to protect Whisper from an inquiry by the Federal Trade Commission, which can pursue companies that engage in “unfair or deceptive” acts and practices. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 10:55 am

One reason police are distrusted: They routinely lie

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Michael Greenberg has a good article in the NY Review of Books on the “Broken Windows” theory of policing. Note this:

William Bratton, the current police commissioner, continues to endorse the [stop-and-frisk] busts [for small amounts of marijuana], but marijuana possession is not a “feeder crime,” as he has often maintained. In 2012, Human Rights Watch found that only 3 percent of those arrested for low-level possession went on to commit a violent felony.

Bratton simply lies. The truth does not support the police activity, so a lie is used instead.

The article begins:

The death of Eric Garner at the hands of his arresting officers in New York on July 17 has provoked a public debate about the so-called broken windows style of policing that has been, in various incarnations, the New York Police Department’s guiding tactic since 1994. The phrase “broken windows” is a metaphor that neatly illustrates the policy, as first put forth by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in a 1982 essay of that name in The Atlantic. If a window in a building is broken and left unrepaired, the rest of the windows will soon be broken as well, because the unrepaired window signals that no one cares. This explains why the police should make arrests for panhandling, public drunkenness, loitering, and other minor infractions that have long been considered unavoidable by-products of urban street life: if allowed to flourish, they foster an atmosphere of disorder that causes law-abiding citizens to feel fearful and wary, as if the streets of their neighborhood have been invaded and are not theirs.

Believing that this general atmosphere of disorder reduces their chances of being caught, the theory goes, violent criminals feel emboldened. Since disreputable minor offenders create this atmosphere in which violent crimes are more likely to be committed, they should be swept off the streets as if they were violent criminals themselves, and physically roughed up, if necessary, even if they may not be breaking the law.

Had it not gone awry, the Eric Garner case would have been a typical example of the policy at work. His offense, by all accounts, was that of selling loose cigarettes in a park near the ferry on Staten Island, and then verbally protesting policemen’s attempts to arrest him. Three hundred and fifty pounds, asthmatic, forty-three years old, and black, Garner was put into a chokehold and died, according to the New York medical examiner, “of compression of chest and prone positioning during physical restraint by police.” Garner was a frequent presence in the park and there is no doubt that the arresting officers from the 120th Precinct knew that he wasn’t a violent threat. The medical examiner has ruled his death a homicide and a grand jury has begun hearing evidence to decide whether criminal charges should be brought against the policeman who employed the chokehold, which is banned by the NYPD but continues to be used by some officers when subduing suspects.1

The debate about the broken windows method of policing unavoidably turns around the question of racial injustice. By an overwhelming majority, New Yorkers who are arrested for low-level infractions—“rule-breaking” may be a better term—are young black and Hispanic men in poor neighborhoods. Often these arrests have been for possessing tiny amounts of marijuana, pushing these men into the criminal justice pipeline for a drug that is sold legally for recreational use in two states and for medical use in twenty-one others.

Currently, in New York, possession of less than twenty-five grams is not a crime unless you are caught lighting up in public or, in the language of the law, the drug is “open to public view.” A beat cop on foot patrol, instructed to enact the policy, may approach a person he deems to be suspicious. He orders the suspect to empty the contents of his pockets, which may contain a couple of grams of pot. The suspect has now publicly displayed the drug and is arrested according to the letter of the law. Black and Hispanic men make up 86 percent of these busts.

The stop-and-frisk tactic that was heavily employed during the Bloomberg administration is an example of the logic of the broken windows theory taken to an extreme: beat cops were told to dispense with the pretense of minor infractions to identify suspects; simply being on the street became sufficient cause for a frisk, and then a search, to take place. Eighty-seven percent of those stopped were black or Hispanic. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 10:27 am

Posted in Law Enforcement

Law-enforcement wants the country run for their convenience

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The FBI is weighing in against the right to privacy, because if we allow people to have a right to privacy, it would make the FBI have to work a little harder. (The FBI, let it be noted, also thinks getting warrants is too much trouble.) Jason Koebler has a good post at Motherboard on the FBI’s current whinging about how civilians want privacy:

Everyone is stoked that the latest versions of iOS and Android will (finally) encrypt all the information on your smartphone by default. Except, of course, the FBI: Today, its director spent an hour attacking the companies and the very idea of encryption, even suggesting that Congress should pass a law banning the practice of default encryption.

It’s of course no secret that James Comey and the FBI hate the prospect of “going dark,” the idea that law enforcement simply doesn’t have the technical capability to track criminals (and the average person) because of all those goddamn apps, encryption, wifi network switching, and different carriers.

It’s a problem that the FBI has been dealing with for too long (in Comey’s eyes, at least). Today, Comey went ballistic on Apple and Google’s recent decision to make everything just a little more private.

“Encryption isn’t just a technical feature; it’s a marketing pitch … it’s the equivalent of a closet that can’t be opened. A safe that can’t be cracked. And my question is, at what cost?” Comey said. “Both companies [Apple and Google] are run by good people, responding to what they perceive is a market demand. But the place they are leading us is one we shouldn’t go to without careful thought and debate.”

In a tightly moderated speech and discussion at the Brookings Institution—not one technical expert or privacy expert was asked to participate; however, several questions from the audience came from privacy-minded individuals—Comey railed on the “post-Snowden” world that has arisen since people began caring about their privacy.

Comey’s  speech and thinking was out-of-touch and off on many levels: He continually referred to potential “bad guys” as the only ones using encryption, and suggested that, with default encryption, people who are wrongly arrested won’t be able to unlock data within their phones that could exonerate them. . .

Continue reading.

Comey seems to rely on lies. I do not trust him, and I do not trust the FBI: they have too often been caught breaking the law.

UPDATE: A good column on Comey’s position, with some of his contradictions highlighted.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 10:13 am

Some trick 3-cushion shots, some with props

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Some of the shots are quite cool.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 9:00 am

Posted in Games, Video

More on the Navy’s silencer scam

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I can’t get over how quickly the Navy destroyed evidence. I suppose practice improves efficiency, but the overt support for lawbreaking seems ominous. Jordan Smith provides new details about the scandal in The Intercept:

A former Navy intelligence officer is slated to go on trial in federal court next week on charges he conspired with a California auto mechanic to manufacture untraceable silencers for automatic rifles, ship them cross-country, and to defraud the feds of nearly $1.7 million in the process.

The strange and soap operatic tale of Pentagon-centered intrigue has been unfolding since 2011, when the two conspirators facing criminal charges — Lee Hall, then a civilian Naval intelligence officer, and Mark Landersman, a mechanic facing a separate trial who is also the  brother of Hall’s former boss  — entered into a nearly $1.7 million deal to have 349 silencers manufactured, apparently for a clandestine military operation, according toThe Washington Post and court documents. Federal prosecutors say the silencers only cost around $10,000 to make.

Even the prosecutors alleging fraud acknowledge the silencers were connected to a genuine, high-level secret operation, known in federal parlance as a “special access program.” But exactly what that operation might have been is entirely unclear. One story suggests the silencers were being procured for use by Navy SEAL Team 6, which disavowed any knowledge of them; another says they were being produced to outfit a stockpile of AK-47-style rifles that were seized overseas and then stored in the U.S. for later, untraceable, use abroad.

That the illegal baffling devices were manufactured and shipped is clear, but as the tale spins forward in federal court, the why and what for remain, at least publicly, unknown.

As the Post notes in its reporting this week, many documents related to the investigation have been filed under seal with the federal court in Arlington, Va., making it difficult, at best, to determine whether they were purchased for a legitimate, secret military mission, or whether they were procured as part of a “rogue operation,” being run out of the Navy’s Directorate for Plans, Policy, Oversight and Interrogation — a small office meant to provide support for Navy and Marine intelligence operations and staffed by civilians, most of them military retirees. As a former senior Navy official told the Post, directorate officials behaved as “wanna-be spook-cops” who acted like “they were building their own mini law enforcement and intelligence agency.”

Here is what is clear, according to public court records: . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 8:41 am

Posted in Business, Military

BBS with the Parker 26C

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SOTD 16 Oct 2014

Extremely good shave today. Terrific lather from Martin de Candre shaving soap with the Marris & Forndran brush. My Parker 26C open-comb with a SuperMax Titanium blade did a fine and trouble-free job, finished with a splash of JF, by Floris.

Written by LeisureGuy

16 October 2014 at 8:36 am

Posted in Shaving

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